Dealing with a Difficult Student


I am still having difficulty with a few 9th grade girls who have been recently discharging negativity during instruction. When I gave a girl a form to reflect and complete this week she complied, but held onto very hostile feelings towards me because I didn’t give anybody else the form.

Despite the fact that I maintained empathy and talked to her privately about it, she would not let go of her feelings of unfairness. She is a youngster with emotional problems.

Should I be dealing any differently with emotionally impaired kids? Some of these 9th grade girls are very tough street-wise, Detroit kids with a chip on their shoulders.

I use tutoring to build rapport, but I can’t make them come to me. I use the system always with kindness, and I am completely comfortable with it. I never lose my cool anymore.

Do you think I should just remain consistent?  How do you reach “hard kids?”


Ask the girl if she knew why she was given the form. No answering her rebuttal—if she gives you one. Continue to ask her if she knows why the form was given to her. Explain that there may be four cars speeding, but the highway patrol officer only pulled one car over for a ticket. IT’S NOT FAIR! Life may not be fair, but ask her if she understands why the form was given to her. The idea is to have her acknowledge that SHE did something that was unacceptable or inappropriate.

Then ask her if she feels your  giving her the form was personal. Elicit from her the acknowledgment that your use of the form was the quickest and most effective way to stop inappropriate behavior. Explain that if a student is acting on Level B, that student is sending a message to the teacher that she (student) only understands a greater authority, thereby bringing out Level B behavior by the teacher. Ask her if that is the type of teacher she wants—one who tells her what to do and how to behave. Then assure her that your only interest is in her acknowledging inappropriate behavior and not in bossing her.

Assuming the form is an essay (not a self-diagnostic referral), ask her what she would like you to do with the form. She will probably say to throw it away. I had a wastepaper basket by my desk and after tearing up the essay, I threw it out—in front of the student.

My objectives were for the student: (1) to take responsibility for inappropriate action, (2) to realize that in such situations it was most expeditious for the teacher to act on Level B because a person who makes her own rules is asking for authority to be used, and (c) to leave with the belief that I had no negative feelings toward the student—that I was only interested in promoting responsible behavior, not punishment.

You may also want to consider asking her if she would like to have a class meeting and put the topic on the table. If she prefers not to, then ask her what can she do the next time she has the same impulse as she had previously. Elicit a procedure from her. See ImpulseMmanagement. Explain to her that unless she has a procedure to redirect her impulses, she will be a victim of them. Ask her if she wants to be in control. When she answers in the affirmative, then reiterate the importance of her having and practicing a procedure to redirect future impulses.

Most importantly, resist using any coercion with them. Continue to speak to them in positive and empowering ways, let them know that you cannot and will not even try to make them learn—that learning or not learning is their choice, and continually prompt self-reflective questions, e.g., “I’m not looking for an answer, but you may want to ask yourself if what you are doing is in your own best interest.”

Finally, YES, be consistent by employing the three practices, referring to the levels of social development, and eliciting a procedure to help the student redirect impulses. For STUDENTS OF GRADE 8 AND ABOVE, rather than asking them to identify a level out loud, just suggest to them that they reflect on the level on which THEY ARE CHOOSING—both regarding their BEHAVIOR and their LEARNING.